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Joubran are establishing themselves at the forefront of Arabic music. The new album AsFâr is their fi nest and most complete to date, with Dhafer Youssef contributing guest vocals to the brothers intricate and dazzling interplay. Le Trio Joubran are the sons of a Palestinian master luthier, who is the son of a master luthier... a family steeped in the 4,000-year history of the oud, ancestor of the guitar, and it this instrument that is their passion, their skill and their life. They take inspiration from maverick fi gures in jazz and fl amenco, traditions that also highly value virtuosity and improvisation. Sometimes, the three brothers play together in precise unison, or merge their sounds to spin out rich, textured drones and ostinatos. At other times, they stand apart as distinct voices locked in passionate dialogue. The title of their recent album Majaz, translates as metaphor ; a suggestion that, although they rarely resort to words, these brothers do have things to say. With mysterious, seductive eloquence, they communicate profound ideas about history, musical evolution, and the beautiful aesthetics of Arabic music, still far too little-known in the West.
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The disc opens strong with a vigorous, pyrotechnical display for the full ensemble, featuring a strong contemporary groove and imaginative rhythmic interplay between Hbeiseh and the ouds. The focus gets a little lost on tracks two and three, where the vocalise adds little to the musical textures on "Zawaj el Yamam" (better if the plaintive sounds of an Armenian duduk were used) and the third track, ("Dawwar el Shams") which despite marvelous playing, simply does not have enough musical material to fill nearly five minutes. Track four ("Douja") also suffers from over extending its limited material, though the vocals are a little better matched to the overall dreamy mood and texture. Things get back on track in track five ("Sama Cordoba") - a thrilling bit of oriental improvisation with some dazzling finger work and perfectly orchestrated percussion from Hbeiseh. The 15-minute-long title track, "Asfar" (meaning "Journey" or "Travel") is evocative of what Ravel's "Bolero" might have sounded like if he had composed it as an oud trio: the entire piece is based upon a simple ostinato that slowly builds in intensity, reaching its climax about 9 minutes and thereafter, slowly unwinds. While beautiful, the material simply was not interesting or varied enough to sustain a quarter-of-an-hour's worth of listening. The disc concludes with a wonderful ensemble track ("Masana") that stays very close to traditional modes, starting slowly and then concluding with a warm and rhythmic dance.
Overall, a beautifully performed disc that could have benefited from stronger programming.
The youngest brother Adnan has a cd "Borders Behind" which is also excellent. Borders Behind is more cross-pollinating with flamenco and Indian influences.